Ben, Cheeky Ben (the tour had two Bens & he had a tendency to mess up my hair in the finale!)
100% him giving me a hug whilst saying "I'M SO SORRY, I NEARLY BROKE YOUR NECK!" - it was so sweet and so funny! (And it was no problem: those stage steps were lethal!)
"‘I’m not being paid enough for back-end-of-beyond digs and toasters that explode with your breakfast still inside,’ a voice declared behind them. Emma turned towards the sound and was immediately met with a pair of beady green eyes, sparkling roguishly at her from across the room...It was a handsome, improbable face, with a modelesque jawline, sharp cheekbones and thin lips that quickly twisted from a grin to a wry pout...‘You know a pessimist is never disappointed, babe.’ He narrowed his eyes, arching one eyebrow and flattening the other in an almost impossible expression...He was honest, blunt and dry, but there was a genuine warmth to him which made Emma smile."
- from my work-in-progress novel 'The Girl With The Sky Umbrella'
The first time I saw Ben Yates on stage, it was in Nottingham - it was my first time seeing the show after the initial wave of 2014 cast changes, and my first time seeing the show since Dawn Williams had moved from playing Jemima to Rumpleteazer, meaning that Mungojerrie had a LOT to live up to, as I already adored Dawn! But please, Ben had that covered! I think it's probably between Adam Lake and Ben for the title of 'First New Cast Member To Make Me Sit Up And Take Notice', because they were the first two people whose performances I was raving about in the interval on my first night in Nottingham. Naturally, Dawn had been in the show for a year by this point whereas Ben was still relatively new in, so one of the first things my mum and I both felt was "He's SO good now, but he's going to be AMAZING once he's as used to the required stamina of the Mungo/Teazer routine as Dawn is." Overall, I was just immediately drawn to his portrayal of Mungojerrie, because he brought something different and perhaps a little feistier than most to the part and I loved to see him with that edge. His Mungojerrie was cheeky and sharp and I loved the way he and Dawn played off of each other; with Ben on stage, Mungojerrie had a spark that was just unique to him and he made me laugh and smile a lot with his little background interactions, just little things which I felt were SO true to Mungojerrie in a way a lot of performers never quite capture, things like him pulling faces at Teazer's love of Tugger and trying to pull her away, and his imitations of Mistoffelees during his dance solo. By the time I got to see the show in Llandudno, Ben just had it down pat - I had known he would improve, because everyone does the longer they're in the show and the more chance they get to have a feel for their character - but there is still nothing quite as pleasing as seeing a performer you knew would come good go out there and kill it! By this time, Ben was just so smooth in the part that he was able to start putting in those little touches which make you get attached to performers so much in Cats, like little facial expressions here and there and unique audience interactions. I don't think I've ever seen anyone with a face quite like Ben's - he is just so expressive and no one can move an eyebrow, pout their lips or wink so effectively I don't think, it's amazing what he can convey with that face of his and how well he used that in his role as Mungojerrie. Of course, the nickname Cheeky Ben was, almost, inevitable given that there were two Bens in the cast and one of them was playing a cheeky character, but at the same time I don't think it would have stuck so fast if it wasn't for his cheeky smiles and pouts and his sense of humour, on and off the stage, but most of all if it wasn't for his tendency to mess up my hair at every show I went to! In the Finale I could be sure of a hair attack from Ben and it never failed to make me laugh! Ben was one of the first of My Jellicles who I was able to see after he left the Junkyard too, of course, and that was when I got a chance to see a whole other side to his talents! As part of Tommy in Blackpool, of course, his performance skills and facial gymnastics were as glorious to watch as ever, but he also got the chance to really, properly sing and belt it out and my goodness he was just INCREDIBLE! Afterwards I was thinking "Sign me up for an album of him singing the phonebook, because for real that voice is amazing!" - as much as I adored him as Mungojerrie, I have to say, it made for a really great change to hear him be able to really sing that way without having to stop and do a cartwheel in the middle of it, and he really made me sit up in my seat. Still, the highlight of it all was catching his cheeky little smile at me at the curtain call, of course!! Because, come on, he had to live up to that nickname of his didn't he?!
Off stage, Ben is every bit as cheeky, lovely and funny as he was as Mungojerrie! The first time I met Ben was in Llandudno, but I didn't get the chance to speak to him properly until Canterbury. The cast had NO room for manoeuvre on the stage steps in Canterbury, let me tell you! I was sitting on the end of the front row with my feet tucked all the way in, and I still got trodden on a couple of times, not that I minded of course, I knew when I needed to get out of the way properly too! So, I thought nothing of it when Cheeky Ben came down the steps in the finale and suddenly put out a hand to steady himself, using my head as a bannister to prevent him falling. But at stage door that night, when he came out and saw me he came straight towards me and gave me a big hug saying "I'M SO SORRY! I NEARLY BROKE YOUR NECK!" and I laughed and hugged him back and told him it was no problem - after all, I would rather be used as a human bannister than see a Jellicle come to harm! But his sweetness in apologizing stayed with me and gave me a major, major soft spot for him, especially when Dawn recounted later that he'd also mentioned "Nearly killing" someone in the audience to her, and she'd told him it was me so it was fine! From then on, I just had an affection for Ben and a soft spot for him - because really, how anyone can be that funny, that sweet and that talented is a marvel and his smile is just a smile you can't ignore! It helped, of course, that Ben was always the first to come up and chat when I was waiting at stage door - somehow we just always seemed to run into each other by chance, be it in the middle of the Bullring in Birmingham, or when I was waiting for Joel Morris to appear after a matinee, and so Ben and I would often find ourselves both waiting in the same place for one reason or another, and he's so fun and easy to talk to, I just enjoy his company so much. The same happened again when I went up to Blackpool to see him in Tommy - of all the people to spot as I was walking back to get ready for the show, OF COURSE it was going to be Ben, in the right place at the right time yet again! He really secured his place in the ranks of My Jellicles that day - as if he hadn't already! - taking so much time out to talk to me both before and after the show and leaving me walking away beaming.
There is a rough warmth and humour to Ben which I think makes him unique and sets him apart from pretty much everyone else I've met at stage door - that's not to say that they're not all fantastic, fun human beings too, of course, it's just that there's a sharpness and a spark to Ben that is very honest and bright and that makes you want to just laugh and smile so much when you're around him. He's dry and sarcastic and droll but he's also sweet and cheeky and lovely and he's just a fun, wonderful person to talk to and spend time around. There is always a certain twinkle in those gorgeous eyes of his and he can tease you with the best of them, but don't be fooled by his sharpness, he's got a heart of gold too and is so appreciative and kind when it really comes down to it. Ben is pure fun and is so good at taking the time out to talk and to listen, even if he's in a rush you know he will stop to give you a smile just to let you know he's seen you and to thank you for being there. Some people are just fizzy, bright and sharp; you catch the eyeroll or the smirk or the raised eyebrow and they just hold your interest with it - Ben is that way, and he's that way in a very genuine kind of a way, there is nothing forced or awkward about him, he's just very honest and open and that makes him so easy to get along with. I love his mischievous smile and his sense of humour, but above all I just adore Ben for his warm soul and his sparkling spirit. He is truly one of the most unique, special people I've ever encountered, at stage door or otherwise; I can't really put him into a category or pin him down, because he's just that little bit to sparky and different to anyone else I've ever met...oh, and did I mention....he's a little bit CHEEKY too!!